Social-Cognitive Theories

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Psychology

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Social-Cognitive Theories

How do social-cognitive theorists view personality development, and how do they explore behavior?

The social-cognitive perspective on personality, proposed by Albert Bandura (1986, 2006, 2008), emphasizes the interaction of our traits with our situations. Much as nature and nurture always work together, so do individuals and their situations.

The point to remember Behavior emerges from the interplay of external and internal influences.

Social-cognitive theorists believe we learn many of our behaviors either through conditioning or by observing and imitating others. (That’s the “social” part.) They also emphasize the importance of mental processes: What we think about a situation affects our behavior in that situation. (That’s the “cognitive” part.) Instead of focusing solely on how our environment controls us (behaviorism), social-cognitive theorists focus on how we and our environment interact: How do we interpret and respond to external events? How do our schemas, our memories, and our expectations influence our behavior patterns?

Reciprocal Influences

Bandura (1986, 2006) views the person-environment interaction as reciprocal determinism. “Behavior, internal personal factors, and environmental influences,” he said, “all operate as interlocking determinants of each other” (Figure 8). We can see this interaction in people’s relationships. For example, Rosa’s romantic history (past behavior) influences her attitudes toward new relationships (internal factor), which affects how she now responds to Ryan (environmental factor).

Figure 8

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Reciprocal Determinism

Circular illustration of how internal personal factors, behavior, and environmental factors interact. Illustration contains three text boxes forming a triangle, with two-sided arrows pointing between each text box. The first box contains internal personal factors, like thoughts and feelings about risky activities. The second box contains behavior, like learning to rock climb, and the third box contains environmental factors, like rock- climbing friends.

Courtesy of Joslyn Brugh

Multiple-Choice Question

How does the social-cognitive approach differ from the other perspectives on personality discussed in this chapter?

The social-cognitive view emphasizes the role of internal dispositions to a greater extent than do the other perspectives. The social-cognitive view emphasizes the role of inner conflicts to a greater extent than do the other perspectives. The social-cognitive view emphasizes the role of the environment to a greater extent than do the other perspectives. The social-cognitive view emphasizes the role of the unconscious to a greater extent than do the other perspectives.

Correct. More so than other personality perspectives, the social-cognitive view focuses on how our environment interacts with our traits. It suggests that our behaviors are influenced by social factors (like conditioning) and by cognitive factors (like what we think about a situation).

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Consider three specific ways in which individuals and environments interact:

1. Different people choose different environments. The schools we attend, the reading we do, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the friends we associate with—all are part of an environment we have chosen, based partly on our dispositions (Funder, 2009; Ickes et al., 1997). We choose our environment and it then shapes us.

2. Our personalities shape how we interpret and react to events. Anxious people tend to attend and react strongly to relationship threats (Campbell & Marshall, 2011). If we perceive the world as threatening, we will watch for threats and be prepared to defend ourselves.

3. Our personalities help create situations to which we react. How we view and treat people influences how they then treat us. If we expect that others will not like us, our desperate attempts to seek their approval might cause them to reject us. Depressed people often engage in this excessive reassurance seeking, which may confirm their negative self-views (Coyne, 1976a,b).

In addition to the interaction of internal personal factors, the environment, and our behaviors, we also experience gene-environment interaction. Our genetically influenced traits evoke certain responses from others, which may nudge us in one direction or another. In one classic study, those with the interacting factors of (1) having a specific gene associated with aggression and (2) being raised in a difficult environment were most likely to demonstrate adult antisocial behavior (Caspi et al., 2002).

In such ways, we are both the products and the architects of our environments: Behavior emerges from the interplay of external and internal influences. Boiling water turns an egg hard and a potato soft. A threatening environment turns one person into a hero, another into a scoundrel. Extraverts enjoy greater well-being in an extraverted culture than in an introverted one (Fulmer et al., 2010). At every moment, our behavior is influenced by our biology, our social and cultural experiences, and our cognition and dispositions (Figure 9).

Figure 9

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The Biopsychosocial Approach to the Study of Personality

Illustration depicting the biological, psychological, and social-cultural influences on personality. Biological influences include genetically determined temperament, autonomic nervous system reactivity, and brain activity. Psychological influences include learned responses, unconscious thought processes, and expectations and interpretations. Social- cultural influences include childhood experiences, influence of the situation, cultural expectations, and social support.

As with other psychological phenomena, personality is fruitfully studied at multiple levels.

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